“Models of Balance and Their Role in the Formation of Ideas, 1250-1375” – Public Lecture by Joel Kaye

03 April 2019, 16:00-18:00.

University Library (Singel 425), Doelenzaal.

Joel Kaye’s presentation centers on the changing ways that balance has been modeled over historical time and the profound impact these changing models exercise in the realm of ideas.  In the period of European history on which he will focus, and for the most part still today, the sense of balance’s presence or absence underlies the most crucial of human judgments: the assessment of what is ordered or disordered, beautiful or ugly, productive or destructive, healthy or sick.  While we can all recognize the breadth of meaning attached to the ideal of balance, we rarely imagine that this ideal — or the un-worded interior sense that underlies it — is susceptible to major changes within specific historical contexts.  In contrast, he hopes to provide evidence for a series of claims:  1) balance has a history;  2) between approximately 1250 and 1350  a manifestly new sense of balance and its potentialities emerged and evolved within the upper levels of university speculation; 3) this complex new sense found organization and form in a new model of balance, which represented a decisive break with the intellectual past;  4) at the model’s root lay momentous developments in medieval economic life and thought; and finally, 5) due to the utter centrality of balance as an ideal in sphere after sphere of scholastic speculation, profound changes in its modeling over this period had the effect of opening up striking new vistas of speculative possibility, making possible a profound reconceptualization of the world and its workings.

Joel Kaye is Professor of History at Barnard College/Columbia University. His scholarly interests center on medieval intellectual history, with special interests in the history of science and the history of economic and political thought. His recent research focuses historical inquiry on the subject of balance. In 2014 he published A History of Balance, c. 1250-1375: The Emergence of a New Model of Equilibrium and Its Impact on Thought (C.U.P.).  In 2015 The American Philosophical Society awarded this book its annual Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History. Previous publications also include Economy and Nature in the Fourteenth Century: Money, Market Exchange, and the Emergence of Scientific Thought.

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